Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Facebook: Maximizing Conflict

"The maximization of […] implied the maximization of inter-human hostility. All the existing sources of this phenomenon were tapped, and those proving particularly fruitful were patriotism, parochialism, xenophobia, ochlophobia, racial, religious and linguistic differences, and the so-called ‘gulf between the generations.’ " – John Brunner, The Jagged Orbit

In Brunner’s novels, it was arms sales, but in our world it seems to be engagement. Facebook promotes conflict. Genocide in Myanmar, violence in Kenya, India South Sudan, the United States. Brexit. Personal conflict: I’ve seen Facebook wreck long-standing friendships by throwing conflict in people’s faces.

The Jagged Orbit was one of a quartet of novels that Brunner wrote exploring future trends. The trends explored in The Jagged Orbit were racism and proliferation of lethal weaponry. The other novels in the quartet were Stand on Zanzibar (overpopulation), The Sheep Look Up (environmental destruction), The Shockwave Rider (rapid social change and ubiquitous computing.) Despite many failures and arguable sexism, Brunner got a lot right. Notably, the works are strongly anti-racist and global in perspective.

The Jagged Orbit ends on a hopeful note; the terrifying artificial intelligence goes insane and breaks down, the arms dealers suffer a setback, and one of the characters embarks on a project of unification. Our current situation…is not so hopeful. We’ve got a world of people who’ve been encouraged to be hostile to each other. Entire countries have already broken down in genocide. And there seems no-one with enough power willing to act to reduce the conflicts.

Monday, July 3, 2023

"AI" and the World

Statistical language models like ChatGPT are exactly the reverse of fictional artificial intelligence. Instead of a disinterested logical machine, we have something that mirrors human language with all its faults and virtues, a distorted mirror of ourselves. They can be useful in producing unreliable but grammatical prose and winkling out obscure computer language syntax (large language models are basically very large grammars), but they are more error-prone than humans, have no executive function, and are without conscience.

Friday, June 30, 2023

Tweets On the Roberts Court and the Past Weeks Execrable Decisions

 Chief Justice Taney IInd, STFU

With 303 Creative, Taney Court II, er, the Roberts Court, has taken a long step towards bringing back Jim Crow. They may have gone the whole way.

The master [Chief Justice John Roberts] objects when the slaves point out his hypocrisy.

This Supreme Court has an honesty problem.

I think the Court was willing to decide Moore [a voting rights case] as they did because their patrons are sure they will win the next election.

The Supreme Court is now arbitrarily creating standing based on fraudulent litigation. What is left of the rule of law? And Justice Kagan agrees with me.

How does one teach law when the highest law court is corrupt?

We can argue over expanding the Court, but at least let's remove the two Justices [Alito and Thomas] who are on the take.


Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Religion and Slavery

[This is a very short note on a very big topic. I don’t know enough to write more, but with all the religious justifications of slavery and colonialism flying around, I think it is worth a note.]

The original teachings of great old-world religions reject slavery and colonialism. Exodus in the Tanakh, of course. But also many of the non-Jewish followers of Jesus were slaves, and Jesus preached to a colonized people (“Render unto Caesar…”) Mohammed criticized slavery and laid down rules of conduct for the relations of slaves and masters. Gautama Buddha specifically forbade the ownership of slaves, and the very word nirvana means “liberation.”

How then did all of these religions come to embrace slavery and colonialism? One answer is that, slavery being such a huge feature of the cultures of the times, all these teachings address master-slave relations; they could hardly do otherwise. Over time, this was converted into an acceptance and even validation of slavery. Christianity and Islam both limited the prohibitions against slavery to their co-religionists, so that Christians enslaved Muslims, Muslims enslaved Christians, and it was open season on pagans. In Rome, Christianity became the state religion, entirely vitiating the anti-colonial stance of Jesus teachings.

I don’t know enough to write more. But, if these teachings are in any sense divinely inspired, then the divine rejects slavery and colonialism.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Patronage, the Supreme Court, and Jane Austen

These very rich people who Justice Thomas and Justice Alito call friends are not friends at all; they are patrons. We have forgotten enough of the aristocratic social order that we don't immediately recognize it, but that is what they are, and Thomas and Alito are their proteges, a word I had to look up, since the usage and concept have fallen out of US society.

“I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish…” – Mr Collins, Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Abolitionist Jane Austen probably heard similar language from the defenders of slavery.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

To A Communist, Supporting Trump

If my political faction made one of the greatest mistakes in history, I might be tempted to never think about it again, but I hope I would have the courage to acknowledge it and learn from it.

“Nach Hitler kommen wir.”

You are repeating the mistake of the KPD [the 1930s German Communist Party]; the public is much more likely to jump right than left. The left, to be an alternative, must stand for the best choices in the present, not some imagined future.

[In response to an objection to allying with the democratic socialists, the SPD.] I know that history. I also know that had the KPD been willing to form a coalition with the SPD the NSDAP (Nazis) would not have come to power. Instead, the KPD, probably encouraged by Stalin, chose to try to outwait the NSDAP, in one of the biggest mistakes in 20th century history.

There was a communist group that tried to unify the German left. They called themselves Antifaschistische Aktion or, for short, Antifa. 

[In response to the argument that Trump is no threat.] After four years of stepping steadily towards the right. After concentration camps. After a nearly successful insurrection which would have made Trump president for life, I think you are ignoring a few pieces of data. I know, I know. “No fair remembering stuff.” Same thing you're doing with German history. 

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Technological Singularity: a Few Links

 [For those of you who are wondering how this got there; it was misdirected. I have copied it to the sister blog Shinycroak, where I generally put this sort of article.]

 (I wrote, and then discarded, a reply to Claire Berlinski's articles on AI; she entirely believes in the TESCREAL arguments. On the way, I gathered a few links and I figured I'd record them here.)

Vernor Vinge's original 1993 essay, Technological Singularity.

“The Singularity: a Panel with Science Fiction Writers Vernor Vinge, Charlie Stross, Alastair Reynolds, and Karl Schroeder,” 2013. Link (video.)

“I believe that the creation of greater-than-human intelligence will occur during the next thirty years. I'll be surprised if this event occurs before 2005 or after 2030.” – Vernor Vinge

Seven years to go.